I often think about Florida’s earliest settlers and what it must have been like for them to experience the diverse and alien habitats within the peninsula. It was a harsh environment without all of today’s conveniences and navigational know-how. No signs to alert them to dangers that may lie ahead: alligators, bears, boars, panthers, fire ants, thorny plants, swamp land, poisonous snakes. No guidebooks. No weather alerts that a hurricane was coming. No hospitals. No experience with the tough and thorny flora.
On the other hand, these early arrivals got to see Florida in a pristine state, something denied most travelers today except those who venture into places that are protected by the state and/or hard to reach places that remain inhospitable and uninhabitable.
While you can enjoy Florida’s many beautiful state parks and national forests, which definitely have their pristine areas, you’re never far from signs of civilization and never far from help if you need it (which is a good thing, of course).
On a side note, a couple days ago I met a woman who grew up in the Everglades back in the 1950s and 1960s. Wow—the stories she can tell are unbelievable. She still spends time camping out in places 99.9% of today’s Floridians would never dare go. I admire her. A tough lady who has had a very unique life experience and knows the Ten Thousand Islands like the back of her hand.
I’ve been in Florida long enough to respect the land and wildlife habitats. Long enough to know to be wary of threats and dangers I may encounter along the way.
When I was very young, the The Yearling (Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman) made a deep impression on me for obvious reasons. The film was on TCM a couple of weeks ago, and this time, seeing it through the lens of someone who knows Florida much better than I did 50+ years ago, it was still gut-wrenching during that one part of the film, but I marveled at the family’s fortitude, understood their decision making, and winced at Jody’s ability to run barefoot everywhere. I don’t know anyone who would attempt that today other than at the beach.
An 1839 map of the Florida territory shows just how sparsely populated Florida was, with virtually no development whatsoever south of Lake George.
By 1895, things were much different, although south Florida, apart from its eastern edge, had yet to really be discovered. Below is a map from an 1895 publication called The Tourists’ and Settlers’ Guide to Florida.
Today with a 20 million+ population, there are plenty of signs around, telling us where to go and what not to do, which is not a bad thing. They no doubt deter many from engaging in reckless behavior. Sure you hear stories of people doing silly things from time to time, like the young man who thought he could swim across a stretch of Lake Okeechobee without any repercussions. Those types of things do leave you scratching your head.
Here are a few warning signs I’ve seen in my travels (and I’m happy they were there):